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James Meredith statue still meaningful nine years after campus installation

Ashley Gambrel
The Oxford Eagle

Nine years after the statue of James Meredith was brought to the University of Mississippi campus, students are still finding motivation and encouragement in it.

“Being a first year transfer student here at the university, I feel as though the statue of James Meredith is very inspirational,” said senior DJ Gatewood. “It serves as a constant reminder of everything that he had to endure so that I can walk this campus freely today.”

The statue of Meredith was introduced to the Ole Miss campus in 2006 as a symbol of racial integration on the campus.  The life-sized civil rights monument of the first African American student at the university, which stands in the heart of the campus between the Lyceum and the J.D Williams library, has made an impact.

“Being an African American student, this statue means a lot to me,” Gatewood said. “I really liked how they chose to place it in the middle of campus between two of the most important buildings on campus. That shows just how significant the statue is to the entire campus, not only the African American students.”

In recent years, the statue has made national headlines numerous times. With the recent incident of a noose found around the Meredith statue’s neck, students are still expressing strong opinions about what happened that day. The event left several students, faculty and Oxford citizens angry and in disbelief.

Kristy Gilmore, an Ole Miss junior, said the incident happened her freshmen year.

“I was in my dorm room with some friends when I heard about what had happened,” Gilmore said. “I really just could not believe what I was being told. I really hate that our university will always be remembered by this event.”

Gatewood was not a UM student when the incident happened, but he read about it on the Internet.

“I could not fathom why someone would do such a cruel thing to someone who is so harmless and only wanted to be given the same opportunities as everyone else,” he said.

Since then, students on campus have held numerous rallies and protests around or near the statue.  Some students think the statue is a great place to express their views and opinions on different subjects, mostly racial issues.

FullSizeRender (6)The words courage, perseverance, opportunity and knowledge can be found embedded on the portal that stands in front of the Meredith statue. These powerful words have impacted the lives of several students around campus.

Gatewood described his thoughts about the words found on the stone portal as inspiring and moving. He shared his first encounter with the statue, and the first time he read the wording. He said the words meant a lot and “gave me the motivation that I needed, almost like a pep talk.”

Gilmore also described her views on the quotes found on the walls, and her feelings about the words.

“When I see the statue, I always imagine that the large stone entryway resembles James Meredith actually walking through the doors at Ole Miss for the first time,” Gilmore said. “Then once you walk inside of the entryway and read the words, it really gives you goose bumps, because those words, along with meaning of the statue, are so powerful.”

This historic landmark illustrates just how far the Ole Miss campus, and the state of Mississippi as a whole, has come. When Meredith initially arrived on campus, it upset a lot of people and riots occurred as a result. Now, the statue is honored and respected by the Oxford community.

On a normal day in Oxford, you can find students gathered around the statue. Whether they are protesting or just stopping by between classes on a nice day, students are paying homage to this significant landmark.

“I think that this statue will always hold a special place here on campus,” Gatewood said. “It really amazes me how one man was courageous enough to stand up for his rights as an African American, and to pave the way for the present generation, as well as the next generations to come.”

Although the statue of James Meredith has caused controversy on campus, the dedication of this landmark symbolizes achievement, progress, and what is to come at the university.

“I commend the university for deciding to show tribute to James Meredith,” Gatewood said. “It really shows how far Ole Miss has come and how much things have changed for the better. I acknowledge James Meredith for being so brave and taking such a huge risk.”

Meredith opened the doors of higher education to all students, regardless of race, and for that, he will forever be remembered at the University of Mississippi.

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